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Review: Stroom Live

I've spent the last few weeks using a system from a small Canadian startup called Stroom, and I can assure you that I did live stream in 4K… from a cell phone.

As viewers get more and more accustomed to spotless, high-fidelity live streams, we as professional producers will inevitably be asked to deliver a live event in 4K. Given that many of us still struggle at times to keep up a solid 1080p stream, why would we even bother with 4K yet? Because we can. It’s not about whether we need to stream in 4k or not.

The main selling point of this capability is being able to set yourself apart from the competition. What customer wouldn’t be excited about the possibility of having their event streamed in a resolution that very few can match? It’s a selling point and a differentiator that shouldn’t be ignored just because some may view it as a novelty.

I’ve spent the last few weeks using a system from a small Canadian startup called Stroom, and I can assure you that I did live stream in 4K… from a cell phone.

Stroom was launched in 2014 by two former video engineers with backgrounds in codecs. Nicolas Bernier and Luke Paone have created a straightforward streaming infrastructure using a combination of a custom front-end dashboard and off-the-shelf technology and hardware.

Stroom Live Components

There are three major components to the Stroom system: an Android 4G USB 3-capable smartphone, a HDMI/SDI to USB converter box, and a camera or some other image source (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. The three components of Stroom Live: phone, converter box, and camera.

First, let’s look at the phone. Since the phone becomes the internet pipe for the live stream, it’s extremely important that the right device is used. For now, the system works only with the Android Mobile OS due to limitations on iOS. It’s also important to note that the phone must be USB 3-compatible in order to have enough throughput for the high video data rates, especially 4K.

At the time of this writing, Stroom has confirmed that its system is compatible with the LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7, and the Google Pixel 1. According to co-founder Nicolas Bernier, “These are the phones that we've mainly tested. It does not mean that other phones won’t work though. We are in the constant process of testing and approving new phones.”

Of equal importance to the phone is the right HDMI-to-USB converter. For my testing, I used the included Inogeni 4K2USB3 (Figure 2, below), but I also tried using an Epiphan 4k. I’ll dive more into the details of this component when discussing my experience with the demo kit, but suffice to say that not just any converter will work.

Figure 2. Up-close with the USB 3-capable Android phone and Inogeni HDMI-to-USB converter

I’ll also point out that you’ll need to use a camera that has HDMI out, not SDI. Originally, I planned to test with a Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6k, but it offers only 12G-SDI out in 4k, and there seem to be no converters on the market at the time of this writing that can change that to a USB 3 signal. It’s likely that the data rate is too high. Instead, I went with a rented Panasonic HC-X1000 camcorder which offers a clean 4K HDMI signal out.